While the virus spreads, Romanian Archbishop urges revolt against health measures

After the unprecedented gestures of holding an Easter service and performing a COVID-19 cleansing ceremony on the streets of Cogealac, Romanian Archbishop Teodosie, of Tomis in the seaside town of Konstanca (Constanța), is now urging a revolt against Romania’s health security measures because he is upset that authorities will not allow the pilgrimage of St. Andrew to take place. Being surrounded by controversial people, like the virus-denier lawyer Diana Șoșoacă, His Holiness Bishop Teodosie seems determined to take advantage of the Patriarchate’s passivity and restart his conflict with the authorities, right in the middle of elections.

Romanian Archbishop Teodosie had previously gone to court to challenge a decision of the emergency committee: that only local residents could attend religious pilgrimages due to the coronavirus situation. However, the court of Konstanca rejected Teodosie’s request on November 25. The decision of the court is supported by the opinion of a pandemic expert who said that organizing such a pilgrimage, with thousands of people from outside the city, would represent a great risk, especially in a county with a growing number of coronavirus cases.

The virus is spreading very fast in Konstanca: At the beginning of November, there were 2.9 coronavirus cases per 1,000 residents; this figure hit 10.8 on November 27. On the same day, the total number infected with the virus since the outbreak hit 16,127 in Konstanca County.

A partnership between the government and the church is needed

“We are talking about a great risk. […] It is exactly the opposite of the measures needed in this extremely difficult time. Unfortunately, this situation is also caused by the lack of a real partnership between the Churches and Government, because, regardless of one’s personal choices, the great Churches, Orthodox, Catholic, Reformed or Neo-Protestant, have a massive influence on the population and are a point of reference for many people. A partnership is needed, which would offer informational support, would allow religious services under safe conditions, and would transform the Church into a partner,” said Răzvan Cherecheș, public health policy specialist and professor at the University of Babes-Bolyai.

Răzvan Cherecheș
Răzvan Cherecheș, public health policy specialist and professor at the University of Babes-Bolyai. Photo: cluju.ro

According to the university professor, the authorities should not tolerate such behavior, a behavior that puts the health of other people in danger.

“If such a pilgrimage takes place, we will see a significant increase in the rate of transmission of the virus among the population and mortality will increase in the area; there is no doubt here. Undoubtedly, the risk is even greater when we talk about parishioners who are part of a community where the priest has clear messages against the safety measures. After all, the priests in some communities are the equivalent of social media influencers. Their opinions obviously matter to believers, even in matters in which they have no knowledge or do not understand the field at all. For this reason, it would not be bad at all to have an informational and educational program only for priests. It is ridiculous to expect people from one field to understand the concept of another. As the case of Monica Pop, a doctor, has shown, there are even doctors who do not know anything about this field. So, under these conditions, that this citizen, Teodosie, publicly expresses his personal opinion against the health measures and organizes group events banned by the authorities, it is clear that this approach endangers the public health. The authorities must take measures; we are talking about a criminal case with penalty to end similar activities,” Răzvan Cherecheș explained.

The Church allowed “this spiritual plague to spread”

Leaders of cultural institutes and scientists declare that they are terrified of the message of Teodosie,  that he urged people to revolt against the state and science. Former Minister of Culture, Theodor Paleologu, says that the passivity of the Patriarchy allowed Bishop Teodosie to take this position.

Theodor Paleologu
Former Minister of Culture, Theodor Paleologu. Photo: stirileprotv.ro/

“In my opinion, this case is very serious, as they were calls for revolution. What Bishop Teodosie wrote in his letter sent to Prime Minister Orban is a clear call for rebellion. These are based on absolute lies, outrageous untruths; he talks about terror, he talks about dictatorship, he talks about persecution, he personally accuses Ludovic Orban, he declares that science is absurd – all these things are absolutely monstrous. This should be dealt with internally by the Orthodox Church,” Paleologu said. The former minister added that Bishop Teodosie wants a scandal at any cost and wants to involve the whole Church in his personal fights against the government, laws or science in general. Theodor Paleologu also added that bishops’ partnerships with very controversial people also hurt the image of the Orthodox Church. As the former minister said, the Church handled the pandemic responsibly, but in a passive way, which allowed “this spiritual plague to spread.”

Alexandru Toma Pătrașcu
Alexandru Toma Pătrașcu, the director of the Bucharest Science Festival and founding member of the Romanian Secular-Humanist Association. Photo: www.romaniatv.net

“Trying to promote the image of religious persecution is nothing more than a PR trick. And the association with Mrs. Sosoaca, who is running for the Senate in Iasi County from a neo-legionary party, shows the political dimension of this scandal. We are talking about a person who said that the virus does not exist as you cannot detect it. Unfortunately, this shows us again that the Church is more conservative and more anti-European than it seems, and in all these years, we have seen that it does not move the country toward a European direction. Of course, they also enjoy the possibility of European funds, even His Holiness Teodosie, that we know; however, the Church showed its true face at the referendum in 2018, and it used all of its resources to support those cut-off. We are now paying the price of 30 years of religion in schools,” Alexandru Toma Pătrașcu, the director of the Bucharest Science Festival and founding member of the Romanian Secular-Humanist Association said.

Archbishop Teodosie: Don’t underestimate the people

After the decision of the court on November 25, Bishop Teodosie sent a letter to PM Orban stating that he would not allow the right to honor St. Andrew properly to be “trampled on by those who do not fear God and worship an absurd science, those who disregard man in his entirety: body and soul.” “What are you going to do? You will beat us, fine us? Arrest or execute all of us who will go to pray at the Monastery of the Holy Apostle Andrew’s Cave on the day of his feast?!? Will you use justice and law enforcement against your own brothers and sisters just to achieve your fixated goals?” the bishop wrote in his letter. In addition, Bishop Teodosie also warned the government “not to underestimate the urge of the people to scream again on the streets.”

Romanian Archbishop Teodosie
Teodosie, the Orthodox Bishop of Tomis in the Romanian seaside town of Konstanca. Photo: Facebook

PM Orban answered the letter, saying that his advice is to urge the people to follow the rules; the Romanian Patriarchy responded by issuing a press release in support of Bishop Teodosie, asking the authorities to allow the pilgrimage as “a necessary exception for an exceptional cause.” On the same day, an internal letter signed by Archbishop Teodosie informed the priests that on November 30 all of them are “delegated in their professional interest to celebrate the Holy Mass in the synod at the Monastery of St. Andrew’s Cave.” When asked what would happen to those who go to the ceremony, catch the virus and die, the bishop responded: “They go to God.”

His Holiness even invited President Klaus Iohannis and PM Ludovic Orban to the ceremony, but they refused.

Related: Anti-vaccination movement is not new in Romania

Title image: Despite the actions of the Archbishop, only a few hundred people showed up at the pilgrimage. Photo: Inquam Photos / Octav Ganea

Author: Orsi Sarány